I don’t know any more about the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford Florida than you do, so I will not hazard an opinion or observation. Right now, facts are scarce and tempers are running high.
However, I am a member of and participate in a police auxiliary role similar to the “Neighborhood Watch” program Zimmerman was in, so I will contribute that to the database.
The Sheriff’s office operates a program called “Citizen Observer Patrol” or COPS. COPS are local citizens who volunteer to patrol their neighborhoods. We wear an official-looking uniform shirt and cap, and are issued a surplus police cruiser (a marked Crown Vic with a dynamite sound system!) and a photo ID card which is prominently clipped to our shirt. The program has been shown to be an effective way to discourage crimes such as burglary, and it reassures the residents that there is another pair of eyes out there watching.
I patrol two separate two-hour shifts a month with a partner. COPS are always in pairs, we are instructed never to go alone. We are asked to drive around and keep an eye on the neighborhood, noting anything suspicious or unusual, and to call it in to the police via cell phone. We also give directions to people who are lost, help folks who have broken down, check up on houses where the residents are away on vacation, ask people to move illegally parked vehicles, and other such minor activities. So far, the only action I’ve seen is to call in a report of a prowler and to stay with the resident until the deputies arrived, and once we rescued an Alzheimer’s victim we found wandering about lost.
The Sheriff’s Office gives everyone who participates in COPS a background check, and a 4 hour training course explaining our duties and restrictions in great detail. We are instructed to not intervene in any crime in progress, or otherwise interact with anyone who might be a criminal. All suspicious activity is to be reported by cell phone, we are observers, not officers, and have no power to investigate or challenge anyone. Under no circumstances are we to carry firearms, even if we have a permit to carry.
I have no idea how the Neighborhood Watch program in Sanford is organized.